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Bullies at School (and at Work)

CANADA/HEALTH - According to a new study Canada has some of the worst bullies in the world. At least insofar as our schools are concerned. The study by Queen's University in conjunction with the World Health Organization documented both bullies and victims of bullies and the bullying methods used in 40 different countries.

Boys face homophobic slurs, insults, verbal and physical abuse, to say nothing of emotional trauma that will haunt their self confidence for years to come and in many cases leads to depression, suicide attempts and violent behaviour.

Girls are no less humiliated either, but methods girls use to bully each other differs slightly.

The victims of bullying (regardless of gender) often end up cutting themselves and contemplating / attempting suicide. They also tend to become more shy, despondent, develop phobias of school or meeting new people, their marks slide and they end up wholly traumatized by the experience.

Author's Note: Having been bullied myself I know these things to be true. I still get upset just thinking of past instances from my own high school years.

The problem in Canada is that many school administrators do several things:

#1. They think its a problem that will go away with time and that there will be no lasting harm.

#2. They think it would take too much effort to enact anti-bullying policies, or that such policies could make problems worse.

In the United States however bullying is taken VERY seriously. In a country that averages a mass school shooting every 3-4 months there is a constant effort to prevent or put a halt to bullying, for fear that "Your School could be the next Columbine".

In Canada this lack of support in the schools' administration results in bullies basically running the place, getting away "Scot-free" with whatever antics they feel like. This is the reason why Canada is ranked the 5th worst country for bullies in schools out of the 40 countries polled.

  • 14% of Canadian boys report being physically bullied.
  • 30% of Canadian boys report verbal / psychological bullying.

Currently the status quo for punishing bullies is to suspend the offending student for 1-3 days. Afterwards the bully returns and due to lack of teacher supervision the bullying frequently becomes worse. (So going back to point #2 above, yes, band-aid solutions do make the problem worse, but it doesn't mean there isn't a good solution.)

The province of Ontario (where approx. 33% of all Canadian school children live) has taken steps in recent years like the Safe Schools Act and a training program that has thus far trained 25,000 teachers and 7,000 principals in how to address/prevent bullying. And this week is "Bullying Awareness Week", something which many schools take part in.

But if you look at the statistics for bullying incidents you see the it hasn't dropped, but has remained relatively steady. Anti-bullying group PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network) says there is little evidence that above measures have done anything, once again its just a band-aid solution.

You have to wonder what this "training program" for teachers really involves. Its likely just a weekend where teachers gather, talk about different ways to deal with bullies, eat lunch together and get a stamped certificate at the end proving they were there. Afterwards they make up their own mind on how to deal with bullies instead of following any kind of protocol.

That is a key problem. The current protocol (or lack thereof) doesn't work because administrators/teachers are not investigating allegations of bullying and are instead preferring to sweep it under the rug and ignore it.

Here is a solution for you...

Make it a CRIME.

If 14% of Canadian boys are being physically bullied and abused, that is ASSAULT. It is already a crime as far as the law is concerned, the problem is that school administrators have a strong tendency to turn a blind eye to bullying and either give the bully a "slap on the wrist" or give a suspension (Woohoo, 1-3 days of no school!), which is hardly a punishment.

If it was treated as a crime and bullies received criminal records (and possibly time in juvenile hall or the threat of jail) then they would be more likely to be scared shitless of getting in trouble again. (After all, if you go to juvenile hall you frequently are no longer the bully, but become the victim. There's always someone who is bigger than you are.)

Now I admit treating bullying as a crime is a lot more time consuming, but so is trying to teach students who are traumatized. They're distracted and despondent, too stressed about the bullies in their life to worry about school work. The students who don't suffer from bullies inherently have better marks (and less sick days from trying to avoid a bully).

An effective solution to bullying will doubtlessly raise the grade average of students and result in happier and more productive students.

The countries polled with the least amount of bullies (Norway, Sweden and England) have strong policies in place and they are under constant evaluation for improvement. What we need in Canada therefore is to adopt identical policies and protocols and FOLLOW THEM. Don't ignore them at your leisure.

After all its not just students who were shot in the Columbine massacre, it was teachers too. For their own safety teachers need to be taking bullying more seriously.

And FYI, on a per capita basis Canada has had more school shooting fatalities than the USA. Remember the Killer Goth in Montreal in September 2006? Or the C. W. Jefferys Collegiate shooting in May 2007? Or the Bendale Business and Technical Institute shooting in September 2008? Apparently Canada averages a school shooting every year, which when you consider our population is one 10th of the USA's that is a pretty high rate.

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